Land of the Midnight Sun
Chapter One: Cliffhangers and Heroes
by Lenee Cobb
How many times, logically, should you have died? Can you count them on one hand, two? Did your survival ever depend upon the selflessness of another? Did they pay a price?
Tonight, I want to pay tribute to a couple of heroes.
We have a green and white Chevy Nomad station wagon packed full from the back area to the luggage rack on top. Behind the station wagon sits a 24-foot trailer. All our valuables are in the trailer, fancy plates and silverware, mom’s jewelry, her paintings, our clothes and toys. On this trip, we get to sleep in it at night.
I’m excited about camping and yet doing my best not to cry. We’re leaving Alaska, and I don’t want to.
I’ve been camping plenty of times already but this will be the first time for my brothers.
Dad’s behind the car bending over the trailer hitch, making sure it’s all ready to go. The little trailer is white and turquoise. Turquoise is mom’s favorite color, same color as our house in Eagle River. It’s going to be fun sleeping in our new trailer while we drive through the mountains.
The leaves of the trees remind me of Fruit Loops cereal, yellow, faded green, and orange. Morning frost sparkles upon them like crystallized sugar. We watched honking geese fly in formation like daddy does a few weeks back. All the other kids already started school. I don’t miss any of them. I stopped having friends when they all moved away. I didn’t have to start school because we’re traveling.
It’s snowing, just a little. I expect Daddy will drive fast. I overheard him tell people, “We’re in a race to beat the snow.”
I’m eight-years-old sitting in the back seat of the station wagon because mom wants me between my two little brothers. I have a couple of comics on my lap, one is a fairy tale about a bunch of dancing sisters who wear out all their shoes and the other one is about Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Of course, Mighty Mouse and Pearl Pure Heart are with me. I’m keeping t hem both warm beneath my parka, sort of under each of my arms. They like it there. I’d never leave them behind and there was no way I’d let mom pack them up with my other toys. Mom finally sewed Mighty Mouse some new clothes last summer, so all his stuffings would stay put. My Grandma Stuart made Pearl Pure Heart by hand. This Pearl doesn’t look anything like the real one. The real one’s a mouse. My Pearl is special.
She began her life as Grandma’s toaster cover doll. Once I started to play with her, I named her Pearl and Grandma let me keep her. That was a few years ago now, before we moved to Alaska.
Pearl has beautiful blue embroidered eyeballs, red ruby lips, and long black lashes but she has no legs. What hair she has is brown but mostly her head is wrapped inside her Jemimah cap where the rest of her hair is pretended to be. She wants legs so badly. She’s like that boy in school with no arm below his elbow. Even with no arm, he can still climb the monkey bars. He’s pretty lucky. Pearl wants to dance like the princess sisters in my comic book, but she needs legs to do that.
Pearl is in love with Mighty Mouse and he always rescues her. He has to carry her a lot. He wishes she had legs too. He takes her flying. While they’re flying she doesn’t need legs to dance.
I cut his ears, by the way. I did that when I was about three, when we were in Washington D.C., so he wouldn’t ever fly away from me like my daddy often does, like Dumbo the elephant. I did like Grandma and Grandpa Stuart did with their myna bird so it wouldn’t fly away, like the parakeet I had there named Peetie bird. Same thing. It works too. Mighty Mouse is still here. He didn’t even cry. My dad’s’ ears aren’t big and the only wings he has he wears as a part of his uniform, so what works with flying mice and birds won’t work on my dad. Besides, I’d get in trouble, like I did when I cut my hair to give myself bangs. That put an end to mommy spitting on the tiny hairs on top my forehead and giving me spit curls. Yuck! It stopped her yanking on my head in order to French braid my hair or put it in ringlets. Before she caught me, I’d been on a spree. I also cut our neighbor lady’s pretty dresses that were hanging in her closet when we went visiting.
Before I’d gone and done those things, I was considered a “good, quiet child.” Afterwards, my parents began getting the idea that quiet kids were “up to something.” That was all about the time when baby Tommy was born, and I got in a lot of trouble. They allow my terrible two-year-old brother to be noisier than I ever was.
Where was I . . . oh yes, flying . . . my dad loves to fly. He says it brings him close to God. He says there’s nothing like it.
My daddy’s the leader of a squadron and they had to chase some Russians away last year. Sometimes he wears an eyepatch like a pirate before he flies so his eyes even out. It is cool watching him fly in shows. I feel proud. I always wonder which jet is his.
It’s snowing faster now. Coming down real good. Daddy’s saying some bad words out there while he secures ropes and things.
Gerald, my terrible brother, sits on my left in his car seat. He’s antsy and grinning. He keeps lifting the cushioned bar of his car seat over his head trying to get me to laugh. It has a plastic belt thing that is supposed to go between his legs and snap so he can’t lift the bar but he figured how to monkey out of that a long time ago. Gerald is a terrible two-and-a-half-year-old. The grown-ups say it’s so. He gets a big smile on his face every time he lifts up the bar.
Mom tells him, “settle down,” as she places tiny Tommy inside his little bassinet bed lying on the back seat to my right. He’s looking up at me and sucking big gulps from his glass bottle. Tommy’s eyes are big and blue. Gerald and I have brown eyes. Mom tucks the blanket snug around Tommy then pushes herself backwards out of the car’s doorway, shutting us in, because it’s cold outside.
She goes back to help dad load a few more things for the trip. She opens the door again and flings Tommy’s diaper bag on the floor beneath his bassinet. “Let me know when he’s finished his bottle.” She says to me. I nod but she doesn’t notice.
I’m not supposed to ever pick him up either. That’s fine with me. I picked up my terrible brother soon after he came home from the hospital, when he was crying and mom was busy. I lifted Gerald from his crib and carried him all the way to the front room and I was so happy about that. Then he grabbed a whole baby handful of my long hair, yanked hard, and wouldn’t let go. I screamed for help and guess what—I was the one who got in trouble—not him, not my terrible brother. But he wasn’t terrible then. I glance his way. He smiles at me then lifts the bar over his head again. I’m not supposed to laugh at him when he gets like this but it’s hard. I give him my best dour look but that just eggs him on.
He might be cute but I don’t trust him anymore. He only became terrible at his last birthday when he turned two and I don’t even know what he did. It would be nice to know.
Baby Tommy stares at me as he sucks the glass bottle. He can’t see Gerald because I’m in the way. Mommy does not want Gerald to be next to Tommy while we travel. My attention is split between the big-eyed baby and the terrible one with the herky grin who keeps trying to make me laugh.
By the time dad settles in behind the steering wheel, Tommy’s sucking air. I holler, “Mom, Tommy’s done.”
She opens the door and picks him up, closes the back car door, opens the passenger door, and slides onto the seat. She closes her door, turns to dad and says, “All right Jerry, Let’s go.”
A few minutes down the road and little Tommy lets go a huge burp and terrible Gerald thinks that it is the funniest thing ever. Mom turns her head sideways. “Leneé, why don’t you get that sack of toys from the floor and give Gerald a couple of cars to play with.”
I slide off the seat doing as told.
The Matchbox cars he plays with are pretty neat. Sometimes I play outside in the dirt with them. He has a police car and a two-decker red bus, a car that sort of looks like ours, and a little sports car. While he’s busy with them, I read about those dancing princesses.
After a while mom gets up on her knees, turns backwards on the seat, and lays a sleeping Tommy back inside his bassinet.
We weren’t too far along on the Glenn Highway on a flat stretch of highway. To get out of Alaska from Anchorage, we had to go the same way we came; we had to drive north and connect into the Alcan Highway. The snow was coming down thick now. It was still early morning and since this was the first snow of the season, the snow plows hadn’t built up and snowbanks along the roadside yet. We were the only ones on that stretch of road, which turned out to be a good thing cause daddy hit a bad patch of ice. Mom screamed and clutched the dashboard. Me and Gerald screamed because she did. We did a whole circle, what dad called a 360. He was happy the trailer didn’t flip over. Mom’s face was white as she shook off her nerves and turned around to make sure all us kids were all right. Seatbelts weren’t used too much in those days. We certainly didn’t wear any. Mom said, “Jerry, let’s turn around. Right now. Let’s’ fly out.”
“Eileen, we already did that. Might as well keep on going.”
Everyone was quiet for a long time after that.
The highways in Alaska were different back then, less traveled, more raw, and, from what I understand from those who’ve lived there then and more recently for comparison, the highways now don’t quite follow the same routes they once did.
We were well on our way and coming into higher country by the time evening came. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t listen, and unbeknownst to me, Alaska’s longest night was about to begin.
End of Chapter 1 of Part 6